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Posts Tagged ‘worship attendance’

HPIM0165

Laura and her Grandma at worship.

Going to Sunday School and worship every Sunday was our family’s pattern since before I can remember.  If we were away from home, we found somewhere to worship.  If we had family members visiting us on Sundays, our family members went to church with us.  The weekly rhythm is so ingrained for me it is hard to grasp what it would be like not to be in that rhythm.  Even when I was a child, there were people in the congregation who were not in that rhythm, and I wondered why even then.  It caused me pain even then.

The drop in regular worship attendance over the last several decades, and particularly in the last two decades, has been well-documented and much discussed.  In general, people’s understanding of what is regular has changed, and many consider once or twice a month to be regular.  For me as a preacher, it means that each sermon must stand alone, even though I really feel that my sermons build on each other.  It is a challenge for those who are at worship every Sunday not to interpret others’ sporadic attendance as rejection.

Carey Nieuwhof has written about connecting with people who are not in the every Sunday pattern that I am in.  Here are some thoughts from his post 5 Ways to Embrace Infrequent Church Attenders.  Embrace is the operative word.  He notes that when he encounters busy people who haven’t been to worship in a while, they often express deep love for the church and that they are looking forward to getting back.  I experience that, too.  His number one recommendation is to develop some empathy.  He writes, “[I]f you stand there with a scowl on your face every Sunday angry about empty seats, why would anyone want to sit in one? People can smell judgment a mile away.  So, church leaders, stop judging.”

People often have struggles that we know nothing of.  I remember the challenge of getting just one child ready for church, and how much harder it would have been if I hadn’t had a supportive spouse to help me.  If getting everyone up and where they need to be at work and school is a difficult challenge during the week, I can see why it would be so tempting to take things easier on Sunday morning, to take some much-craved slow time.  Moreover, some people have to work on Sundays, while others have challenging personal struggles that make it difficult for them either physically or emotionally to get out and be a part of the assembly.

Nieuwhof also calls us to remember that our mission is not to fill seats on Sundays but to lead people into a relationship with Jesus.  We are making disciples of Jesus.  We do that in many ways all week long as we support them on their faith journey.  He points out, “[I]f you really help people move into an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ, they might show up more regularly in your church on Sunday.  Ironic, isn’t it?”  Church is not just what we do on Sundays; it’s who we are all the time.

Thirdly, he reminds us to use the technologies at hand every day to connect with people.  I wholeheartedly agree.  For example, I have found that online social media is critical for connecting with younger people.  Social media helps me know when the children that are under my wings are sick, and when they make the honor roll.  I can quickly share encouragement and keep in touch.  This is the best way to share prayer concerns with younger adults.  Face to face conversations are still the gold standard for pastoral care, but I have found that Facebook messenger is a helpful tool for brief conversations and prayer, especially late in the evening when children are asleep.

Read Nieuwhof’s post for more, and see the links on that page to his other posts on this topic.

See also this post by one of his colleagues, a young mother, on what you miss when you skip church on Sunday.

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I came across an article by a young journalist about what it is like to be the only person who showed up for worship.  Having recently moved to Portland, Maine, the author was seeking a sense of sanctuary and solidity.  He had visited St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland before for a festive morning service, and decided to return for an evening service.

The priest’s care for this one worshiper reminds me of the incarnation of Christ that we recently celebrated at Christmas.  Our great God became a tiny infant in the arms of a small family.  And when our Christ grew and grew up, he mostly encountered people one, or a few, at a time.  The church has tried to proclaim the good news that he came for each one of us, for you, and for me.  This priest’s care over her one worshiper embodies (incarnates) that message in a gracious, powerful way.

When we who long so much to share the good news find ourselves wondering whether our efforts make any difference at all, we can think of this priest and the unforgettable impression she made on the lone worshiper.  He knows Jesus Christ came for him.  We can help others know that he came for each of them, too.

When you’re the only one who shows up to church

http://www.episcopalcafe.com/going-to-church-alone/

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